Skip to main content

Full text of "Speech of Rev. Samuel J. May, to the convention fo citizens, of Onondaga County, in Syracuse, on the 14th of October, 1851, called "to consider the principles of the American government, and the extent to which they are trampled under foot by the fugitive slave law" occasioned by an attempt to enslave an inhabitant of Syracuse"

See other formats

Human Government Subordinate to the Divine. 







OCTOBER 14, 1851 
















^.SS7*y,51 ^^ i 




Fellow Citizenb :— 

We have not come here to array ourselves -against the 
government of our country ; but to denounce a most tyrannous 
act of our government. \Ye Lave come to speak as freeme% 
may, and freemen should, against high-handed oppression, 
execrable cruelty ; and if we are not allowed to do this, what 
advantage is there in beino; freemen ? We have not come to 
set our feet upon law, but to put the stamp of reprobatioiv 
upon thnt, which is nn outrage upon law. We have not come 
here, to declare our indeyiendence of the State Oi of the Con- 
federacY to which we belong ; but to declare that neither our 
State nor our Confoderncy h independeni of God, independent 
of the obligation that: k upon ail men '^ to do justly, love 
mercy and walk humbly." We have not come to countenance 
our fellow-citizens of this city and county, in trampling upon 
the majesty of law ; but to say what we think an.l feel of their 
having lifted the iron heel of a mean and cruel despotism 
from the neck of a poor fellow being. We have not come 
to insult our Chief Magistrate, and the Legislators of our 
land ; but to admonish them that even they cannot with im- 
punity set God at defiance, and may not compel us to insult 
him. God is King of kings and Governor of governors^ 
Ruler of rulers. '• God is love." " Love worketh no ill to 
his neighbor: therefore lova is the ftdjilling of law.'' 

The first and greatest of all commandments is, " Thou shalt 
love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy 
mind, and wi'Ji all thy strength. And the second is like unto 
it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." On these two 
commandments hang, from them depend— that is, with them 
must be consistent all laws, which should have, or can have, 
any binding obligation upon the consciences of good men. 
Only such laws as may be <ie.l',iced from these commandments 
have any divine authority/ 


Only by a general obedience to these shall ever be brought 
on that happy state of the world, so glowingly depicted by 
the Hebrew Prophets, and the hopeful of other nations, when 
there shall be no more oppression, nor violence, nor wrong. 

To arouse, guide and strengthen men to keep these com- 
raandments more perfectly at all times, at any hazard of pro- 
) erty, of reputation, and even of life, was the great end and 
aim of the ministry, of the life, and of the death of Jesus 

Now if, as we believe, the authority of Jesus Christ was 
divine ; if he was sanctified and sent into the world by God, 
to declare' unto individuals and nations the principles of true 
righteousness ; and by the power of his truth to make them 
free from sin and death, then it is obvious that there can be 
no power on earth that is authorized to^contravene and set 
at naught his commandments. It used to be claimed and 
allowed throughout Christendom, as elsewhere, that kings 
reigned by a divine right, and that subjects were bound to 
obey them in all things, as the vicegerents of the x\lmighty. 
But that assumption has subsided in every part of the chris- 
tian Vforld; and in our country it is repudiated utterly. 
Here it was laid down by the founders of our Republic, as a 
fundamental principle, that all the powers of a just govern- 
ment are derived from, must have been delegated by, the 
governed. Now then, the governed cannot commit to their 
officials, any right, any authority, which they do not them- 
seives possess. The governed possess no right, they have no 
authority to disobey the commandments of God, therefore the 
government can receive no authority to require any un- 

This proposition will commend itself to you as incontrover- 
tibly true, when you consider the significant fact, that the 
two greatest commandments of Christ were laid upon maji, 
not as a party to any civil compact, or as a constituent of 
any social arrangement, but upon man as aii individual — a 
being sustaining such relations, on the oric hand, to God who 
made him, and, on the other hand to those fellow beings whom 
the Creator has made like him, as do obviously, naturally 
give rise to the two classes of obligations, imposed in these 
two sem'nal, a'l comprehensive precepts. In each case Jesus 
speak^^i to the individual ; and he appeals to the very nature of 
every human being, on which rests the obligations to feel and 
^Q Ai).at" he here enjoins. 

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy hearty i. e^ 
the affections, which glow in thy bosom, welling up as they 
do from a fountain which God alone supplies, ought to rise 
in their regards, until they shall be fixed supremely upon 
Him, who is love, and the source of ail that is lovely. 

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind, i. e. 
that intelligence, which the Creator has bestowed upon thee, 
should seek after him who inspired it, the knowledge of whom 
alone is true wisdom. 

Thou shalt love him with all thy strength, i. e. all thy ac- 
tivities should be guided by the highest wisdom, and animated 
by the purest, best affections, that may be developed within 

So too, as it respects thy fellow being, between whom and 
thyself there is a mutual dependence, who has faculties, feel- 
ings, hopes, fears, infirmities, wants, like thine own= — ^it must 
be obvious that he is thy brother. Thou shouldst therefore 
love and treat him as such. The best of all rules, hj which 
to govern your conduct towards a fellow man is, to do unto 
him just what you would that he should do unto you. Can 
there be a rational and moral being, who does not see at a 
glance, that a general obedience to these commands would 
promote the glory of God, and the good of mankind in the 

Let me here add, that the obligation to obey these com- 
mandments, does not rest merely upon the authority of him^ 
in whose words we have received them ; so that they are not 
exempt who deny Christ. These principles of moral conduct 
were inculcated by Jesus Christ, because they were right. 
The obligation to conform to them arose then, and arises now, 
from that moral constitution, which God instituted, and of 
Jesus Christ was the best expounder — a constitution not 
written upon parchment, but upon the living tables of the 
human heart ; a constitution of course much more ancient, 
venerable, sacred than any, which men have devised for na- 
tional purposes. We are not therefore to wait until the civil 
government, under which we live, shall see fit to re-enact 
these laws, before we acknowledge our obligation to obey 
them. Individuals generally have to precede nations in their 
conformity to God's will, often through much persecution and 
suffering. These are the benefactors of men, the lights o2 
the world, the leaders of reform. Every one, when he comes 
to know himself, and his relations to other beings, will se© 


that these great commandments are founded in eternal right- 
eousness. If there be any man, who does not discern the 
propriety of these commandments — if he does not recognize 
the obligations, which they would enforce— if these have not 
become self-evident to him, matters of consciousness to his 
moral senscj—it must be because his intellectual and moral 
nature is undeveloped. He needs education, culture. And 
the greatest concern of society should be, to see that its con- 
stituents are so enlightened and cultivated, that they shall be 
at least not ignorant of the first principles of right mid tvrong. 

Those rulers are not such as God ajtproves, and we should 
respect, who aim merely to exact from their subjects a blind 
obedience to their own authority ; instead of encouragirjg and 
assisting them to discern the things that are right, and to do 
them because they are right. Much less are those rulers or- 
dained of God, who prescribe what they know to be not rights 
but only, as they think profitable or expedient for the time 
being, or accordant with an iniquitouB compact,-— and then 
set about to compel their subjects to obey such laws, however 
they may violate their consciences, and outrage their feelings. 
To compel any man to do wrong, is to compel him to set bis 
own moral nature at naught, which is to do himself the great- 
est harm. If the subject consents to this, he sins—nay — he 
fsets God at defiance ; and chooses to serve Baal, or Moloch, 
or Mammon instead. 

Unless then, there be an authority higher than that of God, 
the Creator of man, —an authority, too, capable of making 
wrong right,— there can be, as Jesus said, no commandments 
greater than these, ^'- Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with 
all thy heart ;" and "' Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy- 
self." Surely no commandments less than these,— most cer-, 
tainly none that contravene these, can have a j^ist claim to 
our obedience. 

Nevertheless it has been assumed by many, and since Sep- 
tember, ISSO, has been stoutly maintained by some from whom 
we should have expected better things, that a law of the land, 
although it be contrary to these two great commandments^ 
although it require of us most unrighteous and cruel acts to- 
wards our neighbors, and although Congress may be very cen- 
surable for enacting it, ought to be obeyed, became it is a 
law ; and because, if we do not obey it, the authority of our 
rulers will be stricken down, and our civil fabric fall to pie- 
ces. It seems to me that all this is predicated upon a very 

falȤ assumption of the true province of law ; an erroneous 
view of the source of governmental powers ; and of the ex- 
tent of each individual's obligations to the kingdom or state, 
in which he may happen to live. 

Mistakes on these points are unpardonable in the promi- 
nent men of our country, because tlie truth on these points 
was seen so clearly, and declared so emphjitically by the 
venerated fathers of our civil institutions. Those world re- 
nowned men, who, seventy six years ago, dared to renounce 
their allegiance to' the British crown, and to establish new 
governments for their several states, and for the confederacy, 
did so in virtue of " the self-evident truths, that all men are 
endowed hy their Creator with certain unalienable rights, 
among which are, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 
That to secure these rights governmoDts are instituted among 
men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the gov- 
erned." Men were not made that they may be the subjects 
of an oppressive political compact called a Republic, any more 
than they were made to be the creatures of a despot. Men 
were not made for governments, but governments were made 
for men. 

I wish particularly to iix your attention upon the latter 
part of the above quotation from the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence. It declares the legitimate object, for which gov- 
ernments are instituted, to be to secure to all men their unal- 
ienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ; 
and that they derive their just powers to do this, from the 
consent of the governed. 

In the light of this declaration then, all may see, and with 
its most weighty sanction we may confidently affirm, that all 
attempts to make a law, which violates these unalienable rights 
of men, must be virtually abortive ; and all attempts to en- 
force such a law may be denounced as oppression, cruelty. If., 
an individual king should do this, we should brand him a ty- 
rant ; and the character of the act is not any better because 
done by a majority. It matters uot how large the majority 
may be in its favor, if the enactmcut be designed and adapt- 
ed to deprive one man of his unalienable rights, the blessings 
of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it cannot become 
a legitimate law, a law that should lay any binding obligation 
upon the consciences of good men. They would be guilty in 
the sight of God, if they should assist to enforce it, nay, if 
they do not endeavor to prevent its being enforced An op» 

pressive, cruel law can derive no just power from the consent 
of the governed. Those whom the enactment may be intend- 
ed to favor, can have no right to give their consent to it, if it 
be iniquitous ; and those whom it would deprive of anj of the 
blessings of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness, of course 
cannot be expected to consent to it. Indeed if they did, 
their consent would be morally invalid ; because men have 
no more power to alienate their own inalienable rights, than 
others have authority to take those rights away. A man 
could no more be justified in voluntarily surrendering his lib- 
erty at the command of a tyrant, or a tyrannical majority, 
than he would be justified in taking away his own life in obe- 
dience to a mandate from the same quarter. The rights to 
life, to liberty, to happiness are not mere kindly gifts of a 
generous Creator, which we may take, or wantonly toss ba k 
to him as we please. We may not, without sin, trample them 
under our own feet ; neither are we at liberty to cast these 
most precious pearls before swine. No — they are sacred 
trusts, for which we are accountable ; for in the use of them 
alone can we develope the nature, God has given us, and be- 
come what he made us to be. 

'^ Tis liberty alone that gives the flower of fleeting life its 
lustre and perfume ; and we are weeds without it." We can- 
not without great wickedness, give up our own liberty ; and 
it is the greatest of all wrongs to take away the liberty of 

The defenders of the new doctrine, ^ that we are bound to 
obey a command of our government, however oppressive, ty- 
rannical atrocious it may be, because the government is the 
supreme authority,' I say, the defenders of this new doctrine, 
new certainly in our country, and worthy only of the syco- 
phants of an eastern despot — these defenders of tyranny, 
whether honorable statesmen or reverend divines, must have 
shut their eyes to the glorious light in which our nation was 
born ; or they must have been utterly blinded by fears, which 
selfish speculators and designing politicians have contrived to 
awaken in the public mind. 

Surely distinguished ministers of the Gospel should have 
known better than to teach, that any emergency could war- 
rant the terrible unrighteousness, which the Fugitive Slave 
Bill proposes. The fact that so many of the Doctors of Di- 
vinity of diflferent denominations have earnestly advocated 
obedience to this law. only shows how widely the corruption 

of slavery has spread, how deeply it has descended. " The 
whole head of this nation is sick, and the whole heart faint. 
From the sole of the foot, even unto the head, there is no 
soundness in it." Some Reverend gentlemen have expressed 
their subserviency to the government in language that has 
disturbed the feelings of some people ; but on the whole their 
prostitution of the Gospel to this Law has been widely com- 
mended. They have received unmeasured praise for the pains 
they have taken to make the commandments of God of none 
effect because of certain traditions. Many people have been 
startled by the declaration of Rev. Dr. Dewey, lately of New 
York, that he would go himself into slavery, or send his 
brother, his son or even his mother back into the house of 
bondage, rather than by disobeying the fugitive slave law, 
help to subvert the authority of government, and undermine 
the foundation of those powers which God ordained over us 
as a nation : many, I say, have been startled by this declara- 
tion touch'ng his mother, who were ready to applaud his ar- 
gument in favor of obeying this law. I have heard gentlemen 
stoutly contend that the Doctor rever did say ho would send 
back his mother, in the dread alternative, wdio themselves 
were ready to maintain that this Law ought to be obeyed. 
Now, for my part, I am not at all offended, not in the least 
shocked at the form of words, in wdiich he is reported to have 
declared his allegiance to this horrid law. If he is fully per- 
suaded in his own mind — if from his heart he believe.s that 
God did ordain, that a government should be instituted here, 
that would systematically go about to alienate from millions 
of the people their unalienable rights , setting at nought all 
the social and domestic relations they may form, and outrag- 
ing the parental, conjugal, filial and fraternal affections, which 
their Creator implanted in their bosoms; and demanding of 
all " good citizens" to as.^ist the ngents of government to en- 
force any law, which might, be deemed necessary to effect this 
most atrocious purpose ; i say, if this distinguished divine 
really does believe that God has given his sanction to such a 
government, and requires him to violate the best feelings of 
his heart in obedience to the behests of such a government ; 
if Dr. Dewey really doe^ believe this, why then is he to be 
commended for the devoriou, the spirit of self-sacrifice, in 
which he would go about to do the terrible duty imposed upon 
him ; yes, he is to be commended just as much as the devoted 
of Juggernaut is to be commended, when he throws himself 


before the wheels of the Idol's car, in the assurance that such 
self-abandonment will be acceptable to his God. I do not ob- 
ject to the rhetoric, in which Dr. Dewey has seen fit to clothe 
his conviction that " this law" ought to be obeyed. If a man 
be fully persuaded that any thing is his duty, I would have 
him endeavor to do it with his might, though it may require 
him to cut ofi' a right hand, or pluck out a right eye, or sub- 
mit himself to be hanged, or to yield up his wife, his daugh- 
ter, or his mother torment and pollution. I would have him 
do his duty at any cost ; and in my weakness I will pray that 
I may have strength given me to do what I believe to be my 
duty, with all the determination which the Doctor has expres- 
sed regarding his own. 

no 1 no ! it is not his rhetoric that astonishes, that 
shocks me ! But that a man, who is so familiar with the his- 
tory of the world, and knows so well that all social, as well ds 
religious improvements, have been made under the inspiring 
influence of individuals, who have dared to disobey the un- 
righteous mandates of men in power-; — that a man so well 
acquainted with the largest and purest minds that have lived, 
and with what they left as the best conclusions of human' 
wisdom, regarding the true intention and just powers of civil 
government ; — that a man, who has gone so thoroughly as 
Dr. D. has, into the study of human nature, done so much to 
raise his contemporaries from the imbecility of " implicit 
faith" and "implicit obedience," has contended so nobly for 
the independency of the individual soul, and has emancipated 
himself so far from spiritual thraldom ; — that a man, who has 
studied so profoundly, and expounded so wisely the Sacred 
Scriptures, in which the choicest lessons of wisdom andAdrtue 
are given in the sketches they contain of the lives of noble 
men and women, who, in successive ages have withstood prin- 
cipalities and powers, rather than do what they believed to be* 
contrary to the will of God ;— that such a man should for a 
moment believe, that an enactment of any government on 
earth, enjoining upon one portion of its subjects, the utter 
violation of the unalienible rights of another portion, could 
have the santion of the impartial Father of the whole human 
family — that God could require, or be well pleased with, his 
or my obedience to such a law, — this, I confess does astonish 
me. That Dr. Dewey should believe, that our political fa- 
thers could make a compromise, involving this tremendous 
wickedness, and themselves be bound one hour by such an 


agreement ; much mare, that they could transmit to their 
posterity of this day an obligation, more binding than " the 
law of God" to keep such a compact, this dof^s confound me. 
And that he should intimate, that the glory of our Republic, 
or its real welfare, or its preaervation even, can be promoted 
b}^ our obedience to Buch a laWj-^this I confess iillb me with 
astonishment. I cannot account for it, I know not how to 
trace this moral obscurjiliou to any aiigcl of wisdom or love^ 
that has veiled his sight. Let him, .',u4 those other Doctors 
.of f )ivinity who have come forward, in tliis hour of our coun- 
try's trial, to confound judgment, to bliuit the public sense 
of right, to sear the public conscience, and harden the hearts 
of the people,— let them I say, explain and justify themselves, 
as best they can to God an.d to a near posterity. I can think 
of no adequate apology for ministers of the Gospel, who have 
so put darkness for light. I must condemn utterly their doc- 
trine, that we ought soitiethnes^ eveii now^ to obey yuan rather 
than God; or the doctrine, that God does sorfietimeSy even 
7101V, command or scmatloii unrighteousiuss, 
. This is a doctrine, which would throw distrust over the 
moral government of the world, and lead men directly ta;ii 
Atheism, It is a doctrine, that would cast censure upon the 
noble army of martyrs, both political and religious, whose 
blood has been the seed of the highest improvements in church 
and state; it would condemn the prophets of the Old Testa- 
ment, the Apostles of the New, and Jesus Christ himself. 
These all set at naught the commandments of Princes, Gover- 
nors, Kings, because they required things, which were wrong, 
contrary to the will of God. 

This doctrine of our High Priests, that the enactments of 
those in power over us, until repealed, have the sanction of 
Almighty God, however much they viay infringe tipon the 
rights of man, and ought to be obeyed,— -this doctrine now 
broached by some of the distinguished statesmen of our coun^ 
try, and enforced by some of our -most eminent divines, con- 
tradicts not only '* the Declaration of Independence," but the 
fundamental principles of human legislation, and of civil gov- 
ernment, as laid down by those who arc acknowledged to be 
the masters of this subject. 

Lord Coke declares that *' the common law doth control. 
Acts of Parliament, and adjudge them void, when they are- 
against common right and reason." 

Sir William Blackstone, laid down the same principle even. 


more broadlj, and recurs to it repeatedly. << The law of na- 
ture" he says " being coeval with mankind, and dictated by 
God himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. 
It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all 
times ; no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to 
this ; and such of them as are valid, derive all their force, and 
all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this origi- 
nal." * * <= "If any human law should allow or enjoin us 
to commit murder, we are bound to transgress that human 
law, or else we must offend both the natural and the divine 

Again, this great legal authority says, '' Those rights which 
God and nature have established, and are therefore called 
natural rigJits, such as are life and liberty, need not the aid 
of human law, to be more effectually invested in men than 
they are ; neither do they receive anjwidditional strength, 
when declared by the municipal laws to be inviolable. On 
the contrary, no human legislature has power to abridge or 
destroy them, unless the man shall himself commit some act 
that amounts to a forfeiture." More might be quoted from 
him to the same effect. 

Lord Bacon says, '' as the common law is more worthy than 
the statute law, so the law of nature is more worthy than 
them both." 

Lord Brougham, also says, " There is a law above all hu- 
man enactments, written by the finger of God, on the heart 
of man." 

Chief Justice Parsons, one of the brightest lights of legal 
science in our country, used often to say " Gentlemen, what 
what is right, what is right, for that is law, or we must make 
it so." 

The same principle also, is laid down distinctly, and often ' 
appealed to, in the writings of our own Chancellor Kent, than 
whom we have no higher authority on the theory, or the prac- 
tical application of Law. 

Indeed, it is a maxim with the Avriters on Law generally, 
" that nothing can sanction or legalize injustice ; that no law 
subversive of natural right, has any binding obligation." 
Even the authors of the Code Napoleon, have said with no 
less elegance than truth, *' that no legislator can escape that 
invisible power, that silent judgment of the people, which 
tends to correct the mistakes of arbitrary legislation, and to 


defend the people from the law, and the lawgiver from him- 

Under a righteous government, and with such men on the 
Bench of Justice, as alone are worthy to be there, a conclu- 
sive argument, showing that the law which had been violated, 
was itself subversive of natural right, unjust, cruel, contrary 
to the moral constitution of man — I have not a doubt, that a 
conclusive argument to this effect, would draw from the Judge 
a charge to the jury, that they must find the prisoner not 
guilty, because the law itself was one too bad to be obeyed. 
What decision, ever given, has been more applauded than that 
of the Vermont Judge, when a man was brought before him 
and claimed as a slave. After hearing all the testimony the 
claimant coukl adduce, *' nothing," said he, "can satisfy me, 
that this man is the property of another man, nothing less 
than a bill of sale from the Almighty.'' 

But we are told that our government is what it is — not per- 
fect, though the best that exists upon the face of the earth — 
and that while we live under this government, enjoying its 
protection, we are bound to obey its laws. I reply, in the first 
place, as to protection, we are very much less indebted for 
that to our government, than we are to a correct moral and 
humane sentiment, prevalent throughout the community — 
and, that if our law makers, expounders and administrators 
are doing what tends to corrupt that public sentiment, to ob- 
scure the people's vision, and blunt their sense of right, they 
are doing the worst they can, to undermine our security, and 
expose our property, reputation and life, to unprincipled men. 

But granting that we owe to our g'tvernment, all that is 
alleged — it demands too much in return, when it requires that 
we shall set God's law at naught, and trample upon our com- 
mon humanity. 

Then, say some, leave the country and escape from your 
obligation, by going beyond the reach of the power which 
oppresses you. But, I reply, we shall not be likely to better 
our condition. Other forms of wrong and tyranny might 
meet us, wheresoever we may go, that we should be equally 
bound to withstand. Besides we owe our country, which, 
with all her faults, we dearly love, we owe our country some- 
thing more and better than desertion, in this hour of her ut- 
most trial. Never have the principles on which the civil in- 
stitutions of our country were founded, been put to so severe 
» test, as a.t this day. The encoachment^ of th^ despotic 


power of a slaveliolding oligarchy upon that liberty which our 
fathers thought they had bequeitlied us, have been made to 
such an extent, that the champions of that oligarchy have, 
on the floor of our national congress, pronounced the glori- 
ous declaration of '76, that all men have an inalienohle right 
to liberty— ~'di mere rhetorical llouri&h—and have dared to inti- 
mate that the poor and laboring people of the northern states, 
ought not to be allowed to exercise the prerogatives of free- 
meu, any more than the Southern slaves. And by the ma- 
chinery of partyism, the leaders of the northei'n wings of the 
two political hosts^ have been brought to acquiesce in the su- 
premacy of the slaveholding power in our country, and to 
unite in requiring of ua all, implicit obedience to its demands, 
though they violate utterly, aur highest sense of right, and 
outrage every feeling of humanity. Now then these unrigh- 
teous, tyrannical de lands muBt be withstood, or all but the 
semblance of liberty, all, but liberty for certain favored class- 
es, will be lost I And by whom shall these demands be with- 
stood, unless by those, who most deeply feel how grievous they 
are ? No— we who love true and impartial liberty, are the last 
men who ought to leave our country at this crisis. Lord help 
us to say—'* Our country— though we die for thee— yet w^ill 
we not forsake thee !" 

But say the abettors of this fugitive slave law~=the demands 
which this law makes on us, arc all in accordance with the 
compromise of the constitution. Then, I reply, itw^as a com- 
promise which ought never to have been made ; and would not 
have been binding even upon those who made it, unless men 
have powder to abrogate the laws of God. Ah I say our op- 
ponents that compromise was made by the great and glorious 
fathers of our revolution, Vf hat then, were those men incapable 
of error ? Are we to bow even to them, as if they had a di- 
vine right to dictate to all coming ages, what is wisest and 
best to be done or suffered ? They were the last men, who 
would have assumed that control over their posterity, which 
the sycophants of slaveholders are now eager to give them. 
And the history of the ratification of the constitution assures 
us. that our fathers by no means anticipated the terrible re- 
sults, to which their compromises have led. They believed 
rather, and declared, that such an arrangement was made, 
as would in a few years undermine and extirpate the system 
of slavery, 

Here howeyer I caay be told that a f^w years afterwards, 


in 179S, our Congress enacted a law on purpose to carry out 
that part of the constitution, said to be intended for the re- 
covery of fugitive slaves ; and that the provisions of that bill 
were almost as obnoxious to our huinanity, as those of the 
bill of 1850. What does all this prove ? Taken iu connection 
with the history of the last fifty seven years, it proves that 
such a law cannot, as it ought not to be enforced. The law 
of 1793, all know, had become a dead letter. Tbe enactments 
of the several State Legislature-, and the decisions of the 
United States Court, conspired with public sentiment, to ren- 
der it null and void ; and fugitives from southern oppression 
dwelt in our borders, " where it liked thera best," with none 
to molest or make them afraid. 

Yes — the advocates of this Mason and Webster bill rejoin, 
" and because the statute of 1798, had become inoperative, it 
was necessary to make the law of 1850, with more stringent 
provisions ; and tlm latv must he obeyed^ or tlie union will 
certainlg he dissolved.'' We have heard this southern cry of 
' treason,' ^ anarchy,' ' dissolution,' so often that it bas ceas- 
ed to alarm us. So if this terrible evil is really ^,t hand, it 
must be left to come upon the country ; for we cannot do any 
more than we have done to pacify the ala.rmist>', who, like the 
roguish boy in the fable, have so often deceived us. The har- 
mony of tne states was never very seriously disturbed by the 
general non-observance of the former law ; and the latter one 
is so much worse than the former, that we shall have a still 
better justification for trampling it under our feet. 

To urge that our Republic cannot be maintained, but upon 
principles diametrically opposHe to those, upon which it was 
so solemnly based, is as much as to proclaim to the world, 
that our Declaration of Independence is found to be untrue ; 
and thus rejoice the hearts of tyrants throughout the world, 
and cast down forever the hopes of the oppressed everywhere 
For this I trust few of us, and not many even of our southern 
brethren are prepared. If, indeed the union of these states 
cannot be preserved, but by our consenting to do the great 
unrighteousness, which this '* Bill of abominations" requires, 
then it is plain, that its end has come ; on such a condition 
it ought not to be, and cannot be continued. " Let justice 
be done, though the heavens fall", is an old maxim, often 
quoted as embodying a great principle of morality. Surely 
then we may say, without being very transcendental in our 
uprightness — ^^Let this great ivjustiee not he done^ tJiough 
the union faih r* 


Yet again ; though the upholders of this horrid Bill have the 
grace to allow, that we may do all in our power to procure the re- 
peal of what they ca'.l the Law, yet they insist that until it is re- 
pealed we are bound, and shall be compelled to obey it. Let us 
look at this position. I will show it to you in the clear light, 
which is thrown upon it by the author of an admirable pamphlet, 
entitled " The Higher Law,"* which I wish might be read by 
every man and woman in the land. " If you are to keep on obeying 
this unjust law, while working against it all the while, is It not 
plain to see that ynur example will contradict your precept ? Your 
life give your principles the lie. What is the use of preaching up 
justice, of talking against an unjust law, when by your every act 
of obedience to it, justice receives a fatal stab ? Truly it is a queer 
way of getting an atrocious law repealed, to keep on obeying it. 
Their reasoning is this : Because an unjust law is enacted we 
must obey it as a law, and do all we can to repeal it, because it is 
unjust. Seeing that iniquity is established by statute, we must 
koep the statute till we can destroy it ; uphold it, till it can be over- 
thrown ! Such beetle logic may safely be left to confute itself. Be- 
cause the majority have resolved to sin, we must go Avith them, and 
keep on sinning to the end of the chapter, and then turn rightabout 
and sin no more, because we have at length succeeded in con vine- 
ing the majority that we are- all miserable sinners, especially we 
who knew better, and so have added the guilt of hypocrisy to the 
guilt of cruelty." 

But as this writer says, a. still more conclusive answer may be 
drawn from history. Experience leaches us that obedience to an 
unjust law never procured its repeal. The actual method by which 
communities have gotten rid of unriijhteous laws, has been by 
protesting against them, disobeying them, and thus coming into 
confi-'ct Avith the ^government at the bar of public opinion, the com- 
mon moral sense of mankind, which is the great umpire on earth, 
to whom monarchs and majorities must ultimately bow. "First 
the [people have thrown unjust laws aside ; and then the legisla- 
ture have abrogated them because they were thrown aside. First 
the law has perished because of its injustice, and then been buried 
by statute, because it was dead." 

What would be the effect on the minds of Mr. Webster and oth- 
ers, who have used '- all their personal and official influence" to 
procure the enactment, and enforce obedience to this Fugiti\e 
Slave L^w — what, I ask, would be the effect on their minds, if it 
should be known, that we, the people of Central New York, who 
have protested so loudly against it, Wr.-re nevertheless every where 
consenting to obey it, in nil its provisions ? Would they not point 
to the fact, as a signal evidence, of the eminent success of " their 

• 'The Higher Law tried byRoasoa and Authority, 'fpublished in New Yorlc, by S. W. 
Benedict, 16, Spruce Street. 


peace measures ?" If we will only become '* the setters/* and ** ter^ 
riers/' and »' blood hounds" of the Souihern men hunters, they 
care not how much we bark and howl about the decree, that would 
make us such. 

Once more, it is urged by our opposers that we are very presump- 
tuous in settinor up our individual opinions, in opposition to the en- 
lightened wisdom of the greatest statesmen of our country, the ma- 
jority of our legislators, and of their constituents. Now this is not 
slating the case fairl}^. The Fugitive Slave Law is not an offense 
to only here and there an individual. Millions see and feel it to be 
most flagrantly unjust and cruel. The minority in Congress, oppo- 
sed to its enactment, was a very large one ; and a great many of 
the majority, both in and out of Congress, execrate the law, at the 
same time that they insist upon obedience to it. Indeed it would 
be hard to find a person, who would und^Ttake to show the justice, 
much less the mercifulness of the law. 

The question before the country, then is, whether a law, which 
a vast majority allow to be a wicked one — which even the most 
unscrupulous adherents of Mr. Webster, at ftrst, recoiled from with 
horror — a law which outrages all the natural, indefeasible rights 
of those against whom it is directed ; and does violence to the best 
feelings of those who are called upon to execute it ; the question 
is, whether such a law ought to be obeyed, merely because by leg- 
islative management a majority of the members of Congress was 
obtained for it ? If tne will of the majority be thus absolute ; if 
there be no appeal from it; if there were no natural, eternal princi- 
ples of right and wrong, upon which we may fall back in such an 
emergecy, I see not that our own liberties are anymore secure, 
than they would be under some forms of monarchical government. 
The way in which Mr. Webster and his fellow laborers flout at 
conscience, and the moral sense of mankind, shows how little they 
have of the Democratic spirit ; how little fitted they are to help 
forward our great experiment of self-government. 

Men differ much on minor questions of morals, and there is some- 
times room for honest differences. But the glorious principles, an- 
nounced in the Declaration of American Independance, were self 
evident to all men. So self evident were they, that the oppressors 
of mankind every whe e were dismayed at their annunciation ; and 
the oppressed were filled with joy unspeakable. In regard to mur» 
der and theft, the consciences of men will net be found to differ 
much throughout our country, or the civilized world. And could 
the people of these states be all brought to witness an attempt to 
take from a man his liberty, and reduce him to the condition of a 
brute, It cannot be doubted, that a thousand would cry shame upon 
the deed, for every one, who could attempt to justify v.. I have, as 
yet, met with but a single individual, who, without qalification, af= 
firmed that this law is a righteous one* 


Tell me not, then, that we are setting up our individual conscien. 
ces against the conscience of the nation. A vast majority abhor 
the law — though there may be a majority, that for certain reasons 
of state have concluded it is expedient to enforce the law, bad though 
it be. We haA'^e the heart of the nation with us — though the head 
may be against us. 

These followers of the expedient rather than of the right, would 
fain make it appear that our opposition to this law tends to the 
subversion of all law. We know better, and so do they. The only 
claim vi^hich a law can have to our respect and obedience is its jus- 
tice. If it be unjust only to our property or our persons, if it subject 
us only to pecuniaiy loss, or to inconvenience, we may, for the sake 
of peace, we ought to, submit to it. But when it requires us, as this 
law does, to inflict the greatest injury upon others, ive are not at 
liberty to obey. We are bound by our obligation to God and man to 
set the law at naught; and then patiently take the consequences, 
which cannot be so barl to ourselves or to our country, as would be 
the consequences of our acquiescence in this tremendous wicked- 
ness. '* Disobedience \^. unjust laws, so far from subverting, tends 
directly to establish /<w;, by honoring the only true source of its 
claims. The only real upholder of law, is he, who strenuously op- 
poses unjust laws. He who blindly and passively obeys all laws, 
right or wrong, merciful or cruel, is not the friend of law, but of 
arbitrary rule and tyranny." 

The citizens of Syracuse and of Onondaga County did not, on 
the 1st of October, violate the law ; they set at nauglu an unright- 
eous, cruel edict, ; they trampled upon tyranny. Who doubts, who 
does not know, that if poor Jerry had been arrested for some crime, 
or only misdemeanor— for the violation of property or the disturb- 
ance of the peace,-=-who does not know, if that had been his case, 
that all the people would have said Amen, so let it be l They 
would not have interposed in his behalf, even if, m his struggles 
against the executive officers, he brought upon himself a harsher 
usage than his offense seemed to deserve. 

But when the people saw a Uian dragged through the streets, 
chained and held down in a cart by four or six others who were up- 
on him ; treated as if he were the worst of f Ions ; and learnt that 
it was only because he had assumed to be what God made him to 
be, a map., and not a slaA)e — when this came to be known through, 
out the streets, there was a mighty throbbing of the public heart ; 
an all but unanimous up rising against the outrage. There was no 
concert of action except that to which a common humanity impelled 
the people. Indignatiou flashed from every eye. Abhorrence of 
the Fugitive Slave Bill poured in burning words from every tongue. 
The very stones cried out. Persons who had never been known 
to manifest the least interest in the cause of our enslaved country- 


men, were loud in thei^, cries of shame ! shame ! Gluickened, 
roused, urged on by this almost universal denunciation of the out- 
rage upon freedom, some men, more ardent, jess patient or cautious 
than the rest, broke through the slight partition between the vic- 
tim and his liberty; struck off the chains that bound him ; and 
gave him " a God speed" to a country, where man hunters may 
not follow him. Then such a shout of gladness rose upon the air, 
as never made this welkin riug before. It was not my privilege to 
witness the release. I came as soon as my feet could bring me 
(from the Dillaye Block) to the scene and join the loud acclaim. 
3f that were sinful, then there were few if any saints in all our town 
that night. If thai were treason, then wera there few patriots 

And now there are men, (so called honorable men,) going about 
i'> inflict heavy pecuniary penalties, imprisonment, and, if they can 
compass it, death upon those individuals, who may be proved to 
jjave aided and abetted the rescue of a man from slavery ; to pun- 
isii as felons those who mean to ob(='y God, and respect the rights 
I'f their fellow beings ! Nay, but they say, it is for violating law, 
you are to be punished. Will they then-— Americans as they are 
— will they maintain, that a govesninent cannot enact a law so bad, 
that the people would be justified in tramping it under foot ? It they 
take this position, they^condemn utterly the fat hers of the revolution. 
But if they stand upon the American doctrine, that '' resistance to 
tyrants is obedience to God"— then 1 fain would have them tell me 
if they can, what law could be more tyrannical \hQ.n this, which, 
.some of our citizens are accused of having violated ? For one, I 
cannot believe that the public sentiment of this nation will sustain 
our rulers, in their attempt to enf<:.rc'^ obedience to this outra^-eous 

But, fellow citizens, whatever may betide any of us, for the aid 
we havf given, or the sympathy we have shown, to a hunted fellow 
man, let us meet it tirmiy, in the spirit of christian fortitude and 
long sufliiring. Let there be no violence otiered or thought of, to- 
wards the misguided men, who are attempting to execute this great 
unrighteousness. They cannot dispose of us by any summary 
proceeding. They cannot deny us the *' due process" of Law. 
They cannot withhold from us ** atrial by jury"-- -nor if we should 
need it, can they forbid us " a writ of Habeas Corpus." We can 
venture to wait. There is no dire necessity upon us to resort to any 
violence in order to escape ourselves, or to rescue any of our num- 
ber from a doom, which every man accounts far worse than death. 
They cannot make us slaves. Oar legalized persecutors may take 
from, us our money ; ; ul they cannot rob us of our respect for the 
rights of man, and our consciousness of good intention. They may 
incarcerate our bodies, but thay cannot imprison our souls. They 


cannot confine our thoughts or the expression of them within a dun- 
geon. They cannot huild walls so high, that our prayers shall not 
overleap them, and go up to the God of the oppressed. They may 
(though it is too monstrous to be apprehended in this age and coun- 
try,) they may perhaps inflict death upon us, but that would only 
^et our spirits free a httle sooner, and send them into the more im- 
mediate presence of Him, who has filled our hearts with this Love 
of Liberty, 



On the^5th of October, the day after the foregoing speech was deliv = 
ered, eight of our fellow-citizens were arrested by the U. S, Marshall, to 
be taken before the U. S. District Judge, on the charge of having prevent- 
ed the execution of this law. So soon as it was known, that they were 
thus set upon by the agents of our government, they, and a large number 
of their fellow-citizens assembled in the (^Jongregationai Church, to con- 
sider what should be done. There was but one opinion expressed, but 
one feeling manifested, and that was to meet the question calmly, at the 
tribunals of our country. Here was no emergency, that would warrant 
any uprising of the people— any interference in behalf of the sufferers. 
They would have all the benefits of the "due process of law," *♦ trial by 
jury," &c., and there was no little reason to believe, that if any of the ar- 
rested should be proved to have aided in the rescue of" Jerry" — it would 
be hard to get a jury of their peers, who could find them guilty of a crime, 
worthy of fine and imprisonment. Resolutions to this effect were passed 
unanimously, and the meeting adjourned — the arrested to go in bonds, 
and many of the rest to go, as bouid with them, to Auburn, to be exam- 
ined by Judge Conklin. 

Much deep feeling was manifested by the crowd around the Depot — but 
no offer of resistance to the law was so much as spoken of. The same 
populace, that could not bear to see a poor man seized, and reduced to 
slavery, consented that eight of our worthy fellow-citizens, against whom 
there had never before been a breath of reproach, should be arrainged for 
'• the rescue." For the sentiment was universal, that for such a deed, if 
they were found to have committed it, they could not be made to appear 
like criminals in the eyes of a people, who love liberty, and revere justice. 
If our Government shall punish them for giving to a man his/' unalienable 
rights" — the disgrace will attach to the government, and not to the 

No attempt was made, on the examination, to repel the charge by oppo- 
sing testimony ; and so all who had been arrested, were of course bound 
over lo be tried for the alleged offense. To all this our citizens have qui- 
etly submitted; and yet there are those, who are claraorina it over the 


country, that we of Syracuse, are not a law-abiding people. Some who 
dwell with us have joined in this cry. Shame upon them, and upon all 
who ar« circulating the scandal. The citizens of Syracuse will ever 
abide by law— ihey only trample upon tyrany. 


It was pretty generally knowu throa,>i)oijt the country, that there is 
prevalent in this city and county, a strong anti-slavery sentiment, and, 
more especially, a deep abhorrence of the Fugitive Slave Law. As if on 
purpose to set this public feeling at defiance, and challenge us to make it 
manifest, Mr. Webster declared to an assembly of our citizens last June, 
that that execrable law shoakl be enforced here ; ay, in the midst of the 
next Anti- Slavery Convention, that should be held in this city. Such a 
threat was not adapted to allay the rising of an opposite determination. 
We are not all here quite so craven, and slavish as to bow at once submis- 
sively to such a brow-beating as he attempted to give us. His words ran- 
kled in the bosoms of a gre^t many. This too vvas well known. If, 
therefore, the District Attorney and Deputy Marshall had intofided to 
entrap the ardent opponents of .his most odious law, and tempt them to 
the commission of acts, for which they might arrest them as disturbers of 
Ihe peace, if not as traitors, they could not have selected a better time, nor 
have dovised more certain provocatives to that end, 'I hey chose a day. 
when our city was full of the p^opie of the country round about, who had 
come in to attend the County Agricultural Fair, and Liberty Par*,y Con- 
vention — the first Anti-Slavery meeting held here, since Mr. Webster 
uttered his threat. 

Then, they had not provided themselves with a sufficient constabulary 
force, to make it even appear difficult to take their victim out of thair 
grasp. The scene exhibited in the streets, of Jerry contending with hi.« 
legalized kidnappers, and screaming for help, had exasperated the feeiings 
of the people to the utmost ; and then he was kept for hours, separated 
from the eager throng only by two glazed doors, and vvitm them a slight 
board partition. So little forethought had these men, who undertook, un- 
der the cover of this law, to perpetrate this outrage upon the feelings of 
our community, that they had not procure*! a proper warrant for the aid of 
"the military." Consequently the poor, doomed man was left in a very 
exposed place, guarded by only ha!f-a dozen Marshals and constables, 
some of whom had too much humanity left in their hearts, not to know 
that they were doing a dastardly, and cruel deed ; and to be in some meas- 
ere enervated by self-condemnation. 


Under such circumstances, what could be expected, but that Jerry 
would be rescued ? We cannot be too grateful that it was done at th« 
expense of only one broken limb, and at the loss of no life. If now our 
government, at the instigation of Southern demagogues, and Northern 
pseudo-patriots, goes about to make out of thi« trau»5action a great offenge 
against Law and Government, they will only bring thetn both into greater 
contempt— for ike people know, that the claims of natural justice, and of 
suffering humanity are higher than of the law of Sept. I8th, i860, or the 
authority of those who would attempt to enforce it. 

The occurrence of October 1st has abundantly verified the words of 
Daniel Webster, uttered in a speech on the State of the Union, in New 
York, March 15, 1837. " The question of Slavery has not only attracted at- 
tention as a question of politics, but it has struck a far deeper, deeper 
chord. It has arrested the religious feeling of the country. It has taken 
hold on the consciences of men * * * To coerce it into silence, to 
endeavor to restrain its free expression, to seek to compress and confine 
it, warm as it is, and more heated as such endeavors would inevitably 
render it,— should ail this be attempted, I know nothing, even in the 
Conitilution,or the Union itself , which would not be endangered by the 
explosion which might foilow."